A taste of Chilean Patagonia

Campamento Torres

Campamento Torres

Considering the information I had heard of Chile from others, it’s a wonder I made it here at all. It’s a stale country, and overly expensive I had heard. Boy, were they ever wrong. It’s hard to imagine this people could ever have visited the same country as I witnessed, if indeed they ever had. And am I ever glad I ignored these ill omens and took a chance on coming to Chile anyway.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

My first glimpse of Chile was an early indication that things were different than I had heard. Our bus slowe to a halt and then stopped as three cowboys drove a herd of cows across our path. You don’t see stuff like this everywhere, and it signalled to me that I was entering a country of free possibilities, where anything and any life was possible.

Viktor and I set about to find a cheap place to eat, cheap and preferably good, rare as that so often is. Really though, anything would have sufficed by these point, as neither of us had eaten in at least 24 hours. We were directed to a place across the street, La Picada de Pepito. It was cheap all right, and most surprisingly it was also good. I knew right then and there that I wouldn’t be left wanting for quality food in Chile.

Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo

The next morning began our trek to Torres del Paine, the gargantuan National Park that would be my stomping grounds in the days to come. With little notion of where to begin, and what we were going to do, we hopped on a bus and headed there, letting the chips fall as they may. When we arrived through one of the three different entrances, you could feel and hear the excitement of the others on the bus. The Torres really was quite a sight, and at that point we decided to head to the Campamento Torres. Hours later, after trekking through this natural preserve, Viktor and I finally reached the base camp.

Our journey for the day was not yet over however. We dropped off those pesky but oh so necessary supplies, and headed on up and over the moraine to get a good view. We weren’t quite prepared for how far we had yet to go, as we consistently thought we had reached the summit, only to crest a rise and find a new one awaiting us. By this point it was getting late, but as the sun sets quite late in Chile, we still had plenty of time left to safely find our way up and back down again.

Finally in the fading late evening light we reached the top, and the view was totally worth the climb. The wind was howling something fierce this high up, but it could hardly distract us from the view laid before our eyes.

Campamento Torres

Campamento Torres

The next day we took to hiking in a different area of the park, lower down in an area densely packed with trees and streams, like a valley paradise. It was here where disaster nearly struck me. I was so caught up in the excitement, and perhaps overdoing it, what with the heavy pack on my shoulders and all, when I went to leap across a small stream to a distant boulder and missed. My leg gave way beneath me and my knee buckled. The pain was excruciating, but with Viktor’s help we set off back to the nearest road.

The pace was slow, but during this time I think I came to appreciate our surroundings all that much more. In my haste to see everything in a rush, the lasting impression left behind was fleeting. Now I was fully immersed in our surroundings, able to take it all in and appreciate it, and I’m sure that’s what I’ll remember years from now.

That and the many kind hikers who offered encouragement to us as we slowly limped along on our way. Just a few kind words really can do wonders for a person’s spirit, I was in high spirits despite what had befallen me.

When we returned to our hostel though, we were greeted with some distressing news. A large group of backtrackers had made their way there and the place was beyond bursting. The hostel owner called a personal friend of his who lived nearby to see if he could put some of us up, and it turned out to be a real blessing.

Torres del Paine View

Torres del Paine View

The hostel owner was one of the liveliest and coolest guys we had met yet, regaling us with his guitar, and his own stories of adventure (perhaps embellished a bit for good effect, but interesting and exciting all the same). He even took us fishing on the Serrano river one day, though we failed to catch anything.

I was mesmerized by Chile, and wanted to explore every last inch of it. My next plan was to board the ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt, but it was a little expensive for my tastes. Unfortunately the buses travelling there were booked solid, so I ended up splurging on it anyway. I wasn’t going to miss anything on this trip, no matter the cost. The days spent at the hostel were some of the most fun I’ve had, and I’ll never forget the great characters I met, and plan to visit them again some day.

Finally I heard of a group of travellers looking for fellow adventures with which to rent a car and go exploring the Carratera Austral. After much travelling to reach the meeting point, we ended up picking up a nice great 4×4 Mazda BT-50 diesel pick up truck that belong to a known and pretty big chilean patagonian car rental company…By far the ideal vehicle for Patagonian roads, and specially for our journey around this little part of the world.

I was so glad to be off the bus I would’ve ridden in just about anything by this point. The journey ahead was just another in a long series of sights, sounds, and meetings that I’ll remember for many a year to come.